Nothing triggers dysphoric anxiety quite like the idea of having do the suit and tie thing for some ‘formal’ event…
:: Earlier that day ::
“That sounds like fun. It’s a good reason to get dressed up!”
That was the reply from the girl at Starbucks that morning. She asked what I was doing for the weekend and I told her “My wife and I have a wedding reception to attend this evening.”
I tell her this as I stand there looking, well, like I do: roll-neck sweater, wavy shoulder-length hair, purse on my arm… I have to wonder what she means by ‘dressed up’. She knows I have two daughters (as I’ve been in there with them often enough) and that I’m married, so I have to assume she sees though / over / around the gender variance / transness and I (simply) get dropped in the ‘guy’ box. :: sigh ::
I know what she means. It means that ‘Gary’ gets cleaned up and does the ‘guy thing’ as best as he can. It means I polish up the wing-tips, press a dress shirt, pull out a suit and find a tie I ‘like’. It means I have to be this ‘guy’ so that everyone else can be comfortable around me – so that my wife can be comfortable around me. It means I have to reinforce an image of me which is not simply inaccurate but flat our wrong. It means I have to once again hide in plain sight.
It means that I have to – in a very planned and deliberate way – publicly deny the reality of my being: and somehow, I’m supposed to be happy while doing it.
I know, “It’s just for a few hours. You used to do it all the time – how bad can it be?”
Not bad enough to make an issue of it – but bad enough to have triggered the dysphoric noise days before. Yea, I’ll survive the evening and by the next day it will be a memory…
But I shouldn’t have to feel like this at all.
I shouldn’t have to lie and pretend and compromise because of who I am.
:: Later that day ::
As we’re getting ready, my wife says to me, “You don’t have to go you know.”
I look at her. “Why?”, I ask.
“Because I know you don’t want to go wearing a suit.”, she replies.
“No, not wearing a suit…”, I tell her, “But I do want to go.”
So, I put on my ‘man-drag’. We skipped the tie and did some different shoes but look was unmistakable – pretty much…
My wavy shoulder-length layered hair looks decidedly non-masculine. There are ways for ‘men’ to wear longer hair and mine is not one of them. The earrings – relatively simple hoops but also decidedly non-masculine balanced nicely with my hair. I looked in the mirror and had trouble seeing a ‘man’ by stereotypical standards. I didn’t look like a woman in a men’s suit – no, that was not a mistake which would be made – but I certainly didn’t look like a ‘regular guy’. It occurred to me at that point that I may not come off androgynous, but there was definitely something gender-bent about the whole look. I looked in the mirror and kinda liked what I saw – not enough to do it every day, but enough to do on the odd occasion.
My wife said I looked good, which meant she was comfortable – which really is something I do care about. My daughters had a good laugh. It seems that to them, ‘Daddy in a suit’ is something rather comical. My wife told them, “I don’t think Daddy appreciates being laughed at.” I know she gets that it’s kind of a big deal for me to do the suit thing so I did appreciate that.
My wife’s family all have known me for going on 25 years, so they’re going to see ‘Gary the guy’ no matter what. But people who don’t know me – that’s a different issue. Our table was next to the wedding party and I noticed throughout the evening that a few of the bridesmaids kept looking over at me – as did several other people as I walked around. I know the look – it’s not the ‘Dude, you look cool!’ look but the ‘Dude, what’s up with that?’ look. I took some silent satisfaction in subverting the gender norms as a ‘guy’.
I suppose what it all came down to was deciding to own my identity – as opposed to allowing my identity to be owned. I figured that if I can ‘queer the binary’ in women’s clothing, I ought to be able to do the same in men’s – albeit with a bit different effect and outcome. Sure, people saw Gary – husband and father – but it was my version of him and not the stereotyped version.
And in the end, what made it all work out well was the fact that my wife and I had a good time together: we hugged, we danced – and while I know we didn’t look ‘typical’ (and I have to assume she knows this as well) she seemed ok with it… Which is really pretty cool.